Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The FISA Vote

Senator Chris Dodd

The liberal blogosphere is up in arms over yesterday's FISA vote in the Senate. Senators Chris Dodd (D-CN) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) had attempted to stop retractive immunity for telecommunications companies who had cooperated with the government in monitoring suspect phone conversations without a court order. They failed. Republicans were joined by several cross-over Democrats in rejecting the Dodd/Feingold measure. Just for the record: Of the three senators who are running for president, John McCain returned to Washington to vote in favor of FISA, while Barack Obama returned from the campaign to vote along with Dodd. Hillary Clinton was not present for this important vote. She was in Texas campaigning.

The reactions I read in several left-wing blogs were heated-especially toward the above Democrats, who were accused of selling out to Bush. One responder even raised the "R" word (revolution).

I would say that on this issue, reasonable people can disagree on this topic, which resolves around the NSA intercepts of phone conversations between suspected Al Qaida members calling to the US. Many believe that government/police should not wiretap, or at least have a court order signed by a judge.

As a retired DEA agent, who participated in many wiretaps (all with a court order), I believe strongly that it is a valuable tool, but one that should be used sparingly and judiciously. One of the requirements to get a normal court order is to show that other traditional techniques (informants, undercover, etc) have been tried without success. In law enforcement, a wiretap is a complicated, expensive and time consuming operation. Installation also requires the cooperation of the telephone/telecommunication companies; hence, they also receive the court order. They act in good faith in cooperation with the government and should not be subject to criminal or civil lawsuits from CAIR or other left-wing interest groups.

The NSA intercepts are very distinct from the intercepts that I participated in as a law enforcement officer. Since 9-11, these intercepts have been used for the purpose of saving lives in a time of war-and, I am sure, have saved lives. To me, this is common sense. If our intelligence or law enforcement agencies have information that a suspected terrorist overseas is calling someone in the US, we are crazy if we don't listen in. In the interest of saving lives, it is imperative that this operation be carried out as expediciously as possible. Having some liberal judge turn thumbs down on a wiretap of a suspected terrorist is asinine, in my view.

The opponents of the intercepts claim that we are listening in on the private communications of "millions of Americans", as if Big Brother is monitoring calls between Aunt Tillie and Granny Skaggs as they exchange cookie recipes. C'mon! We all know who is being targeted. I know I am not being targeted because I don't have contacts with Islamic terrorists-even for innocent purposes. In fact, I would go even farther. In this day and age, if the authorities have information that certain imams and mosques or other Islamic organizations in the US are allied with terrorism, I would be bugging the hell out of them. Remember the objective: It is not to increase government power or further a dictatorship-it is for the purpose of preventing further 9-11s.

I do not understand why most Democrats in Congress oppose this kind of electronic surveillance. It angers me that there is a segment of our society-no matter how well intentioned-that wants to block virtually every move that the Bush Administration tries to combat Islamic terrorism. If they are successful, they will ultimately have blood on their hands.


Lance Christian Johnson said...

As somebody who opposes the wiretapping, my reasons are twofold:

1. I don't have as much faith that the government is only targetting terrorists as you do. And by "government" I don't mean Republicans. There could be a member of the Whig party in office for all I care, and I'd still feel the same.

2. I believe in Ben Franklin's point of view when he said, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." (I'm sure that the blogs you speak of are probably quoting that one ad nauseum though.)

I know too much about history to know what can happen when the people willingly let the government increase its powers. Sure, it's happened in this country before (even under Lincoln during the Civil War) but that doesn't mean that we should allow it to continue to happen.

Gary Fouse said...


I respect your point of view on this one, but I think I have expressed my own already in the posting.

I also am wary of increased government power, but I am thinking in terms of all the regulations, taxes and programs. To me, the primary duty of government is to protect the nation from foreign dangers and protect the people from crime + maintain the infrastructure. In those areas, I am ok with govt power.

As for Ben Franklin's quote, you are on to something; it is a tired old quotation.